See (besides books listed under Old Testament) studies by A. A. Anderson (1972), D. Kidner (1973, 1975), C. Westermann (1980), W. Brueggemann (1984), and H. J. Kraus (1987, 1989).
Sacred song or poem. The term is most widely known from the book of Psalms in the Bible. Its 150 psalms, ranging in subject from songs of joyous faith and thanksgiving to songs of bitter protest and lamentation, rank among the immortal poems of all time. They have had a profound influence on the liturgies of Judaism and Christianity. Their dating and authorship are highly problematic, and the tradition of assigning them to King David is no longer accepted. In the original Hebrew text the book had no name. When the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek (the Septuagint), it was h1d Psalterion, referring to a stringed instrument that would accompany such songs.
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|Hebrew Psalms||Greek Psalms|
For the remainder of this article, the Hebrew Psalm numbers will be used unless otherwise noted.
Psalms 39, 62, and 77 are linked with Jeduthun, to be sung after his manner or in his choir. Psalms 50 and 73–83 are associated with Asaph, as the master of his choir, to be sung in the worship of God. The ascriptions of Psalms 42, 44–49, 84, 85, 87, and 88 assert that the "sons of Korah" were entrusted with arranging and singing them; suggests that this group formed a leading part of the Korathite singers. Hebraist Joel M. Hoffman suggests that Psalm 49 may be an anti-corruption Psalm, not "for Korah" but "against Korah.
Psalm 18 is also found, with minor variations, at , for which reason, in accordance with the naming convention used elsewhere in the historic parts of the Bible, it is known as the Song of David.
Psalm 136 is generally called "the great Hallel," but the Talmud also includes Psalms 120–135. Psalms 113–118 constitute the Hallel, which is recited on the three great feasts, (Passover, Weeks, and Tabernacles); at the new moon; and on the eight days of Hanukkah. A version of Psalm 136 with slightly different wording appears in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Psalm 119 is the longest Psalm. It is composed of 176 verses, in sets of eight verses, each set beginning with one of the 22 Hebrew letters. Several other Psalms also have alphabetical arrangements. These psalms are believed to be written (rather than oral) compositions from the first, and thus of a relatively late date.
Psalm 117 is the shortest Psalm, containing but two verses.
Psalm forms or types also include: Songs of Zion – Psalms 48, 76, 84, 87, 122, 134; Historical Litanies – Psalms 78, 105, 106, 135, 136; Pilgrim Liturgies – Psalms 81, 21; Entrance Liturgies – Psalms 15, 24; Judgment Liturgies – Psalms 50, 82; Mixed Types – 36, 40, 41, 68
Walter Brueggemann suggests another way of categorizing the Psalms: Orientation, Disorientation, Reorientation.
In the Pentateuch (or Torah), Moses leads the Jews in two songs of praise: upon the splitting of the Red Sea (Exodus 15) and before his death (Deuteronomy 32). Also, the Jews sing upon miracles done for them with the well (Numbers 21). Other Jewish figures would sing songs to celebrate miracles, including Joshua and Deborah. It is David, though, who is known as the "sweet singer of Israel".
Some of the titles given to the Psalms in their ascriptions suggest their use in worship:
Psalms are used throughout traditional Jewish worship. Many complete Psalms and verses from Psalms appear in the morning services. Psalm 145 (commonly referred to as "Ashrei," which is really the first word of 2 verses appended to the beginning of the Psalm), is read during or before services, three times every day. Psalms 95–99, 29, 92, and 93, along with some later readings, comprise the introduction ("Kabbalat Shabbat") to the Friday night service.
Traditionally, a different "Psalm for the Day" is read after the morning service each day of the week (starting Sunday, Psalms: 24, 48, 82, 94, 81, 93, 92). This is described in the Mishnah (the initial codification of the Jewish oral tradition) in the tractate "Tamid."
When a Jew dies, a watch is kept over the body and Tehillim (Psalms) are recited constantly by sun or candlelight, until the burial service. Historically, this watch would be carried out by the immediate family – usually in shifts – but in contemporary practice, this service is provided by an employee of the funeral home or Chevra kadisha.
Many Jews complete the Book of Psalms on a weekly or monthly basis. Each week, some also say a Psalm connected to that week's events or the Torah portion read during that week. In addition, many Jews (notably Lubavitch, and other Chasidim) read the entire Book of Psalms prior to the morning service, on the Sabbath preceding the calculated appearance of the new moon.
The reading of psalms is viewed in Jewish tradition as a vehicle for gaining God's favor. They are thus often specially recited in times of trouble, such as poverty, disease, or physical danger; in many synagogues, Psalms are recited after services for the security of the State of Israel. Note that Sefer ha-Chinuch states that this practice is designed not to achieve favor, as such, but rather to inculcate belief in Divine Providence into one’s consciousness - as consistent with Maimonides' general view on Providence. (Relatedly, it is noted that the Hebrew verb for prayer - hitpalal התפלל - is in fact the reflexive form of palal פלל, to judge. Thus, “to pray” conveys the notion of “judging oneself”: ultimately, the purpose of prayer - tefilah תפלה - is to transform ourselves See further under Jewish services.)
Psalms may also be read by a group of people who divide up the psalms between them to allow for a complete reading of the book.
New Testament references show that the earliest Christians used the Psalms in worship, and the Psalms have remained an important part of worship in most Christian Churches. The Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches have always made systematic use of the Psalms, with a cycle for the recitation of all or most of them over the course of one or more weeks. In the early centuries of the Church, it was expected that any candidate for bishop would be able to recite the entire Psalter from memory, something they often learned automatically during their time as monks.
Several conservative denominations sing only the Psalms (some churches also sing the small number of hymns found elsewhere in the Bible) in worship, and do not accept the use of any non-Biblical hymns; examples are the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, the Westminster Presbyterian Church in the United States and the Free Church of Scotland.
Some Psalms are among the best-known and best-loved passages of Scripture, with a popularity extending well beyond regular church-goers.
New translations and settings of the Psalms continue to be produced. An individually printed volume of Psalms for use in Christian religious rituals is called a Psalter.
At Vespers and Matins, different kathismata are read at different times of the liturgical year and on different days of the week, according to the Church's calendar, so that all 150 psalms (20 kathismata) are read in the course of a week. In the twentieth century, some lay Christians have adopted a continuous reading of the Psalms on weekdays, praying the whole book in four weeks.
Aside from kathisma readings, Psalms occupy a prominent place in every other Orthodox service including the services of the Hours and the Divine Liturgy. In particular, the penitential Psalm 50 is very widely used. Fragments of Psalms and individual verses are used as Prokimena (introductions to Scriptural readings), and Stichera. The bulk of Vespers would still be composed of Psalms even if the kathisma were to be disregarded; Psalm 118, "The Psalm of the Law," is the centerpiece of Matins on Saturdays, some Sundays, and the Funeral service. The entire book of Psalms is traditionally read out loud or chanted at the side of the deceased during the time leading up to the funeral, mirroring Jewish tradition.
The work of Bishop Richard Challoner in providing devotional materials in English meant that many of the psalms were familiar to English-speaking Catholics from the eighteenth century onwards. Challoner translated the entire of the Lady Office into English, as well as Sunday Vespers and daily Compline. He also provided other individual Psalms such as 129/130 for prayer in his devotional books. Challoner is also noted for revising the Douay-Rheims Bible, and the translations he used in his devotional books are taken from this work.
Until the Second Vatican Council the Psalms were either recited on a one week or less frequently (as in the case of Ambrosian rite) a two-week cycle. Different one-week schemata were employed: all secular clergy followed the Roman distribution, while Monastic Houses almost universally followed that of St Benedict, with only a few congregations (such as the Benedictines of St Maur) following individualistic arrangements. The Breviary introduced in 1974 distributed the psalms over a four-week cycle. Monastic usage varies widely. Some use the four week cycle of the secular clergy, many retain a one week cycle, either following St Benedict's scheme or another of their own devising, while others opt for some other arrangement.
Official approval was also given to other arrangements (see "Short" Breviaries in the 20th and early 21st century America for an in-progress study) by which the complete Psalter is recited in a one or two-week cycle. These arrangements are used principally by Catholic contemplative religious orders, such as that of the Trappists (see for example the Divine Office schedule at New Melleray Abbey).
The General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, 122 sanctions three modes of singing/recitation for the Psalms:
Of these three the antiphonal mode is the most widely followed.
Over the centuries, the use of complete Psalms in the liturgy declined. The Tridentine Mass preserved only isolated verses that, in some cases, were originally refrains sung during recitation of the whole Psalm from which they were taken. After the Second Vatican Council (which also permitted the use of vernacular languages in the liturgy) longer psalm texts were reintroduced into the Mass, during the readings. The revision of the Roman Missal after the Second Vatican Council reintroduced the singing or recitation of a more substantial section of a Psalm, in some cases an entire Psalm, after the first Reading from Scripture. This Psalm, called the Responsorial Psalm, is usually sung or recited responsorially, although the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 61 permits direct recitation.
The psalms are extremely popular among those who follow the Reformed tradition.
Following the Protestant Reformation, verse paraphrases of many of the Psalms were set as hymns. These were particularly popular in the Calvinist tradition, where in the past they were typically sung to the exclusion of hymns. Calvin himself made some French translations of the Psalms for church usage. Martin Luther's A Mighty Fortress is Our God is based on Psalm 46. Among famous hymn settings of the Psalter were the Scottish Psalter and the settings by Isaac Watts. The first book printed in North America was a collection of Psalm settings, the Bay Psalm Book (1640).
But by the 20th century they were mostly replaced by hymns in church services. However, the Psalms are popular for private devotion among many Protestants and still used in many churches for traditional worship. For example, see A Psalm and A Prayer for Private and Public Devotions http://www.apsalmandaprayer.com . There exists in some circles a custom of reading one Psalm and one chapter of Proverbs a day, corresponding to the day of the month.
Anglican chant is a method of singing prose versions of the Psalms.
In the early 17th century, when the King James Bible was introduced, the metrical arrangements by Thomas Sternhold and John Hopkins were also popular and were provided with printed tunes. This version and the version by Tate and Brady produced in the late seventeenth century (see article on Metrical Psalter) remained the normal congregational way of singing psalms in the Church of England until well into the nineteenth century.
The psalms also feature large in settings of Vespers, including by Claudio Monteverdi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Antonio Vivaldi who wrote such settings as part of their responsibilities as church musicians.
Most settings of individual psalms are indicated under the articles devoted to those particular psalms; settings for other psalms not in such articles include: